‘Ghost town’ fear as shops struggle
Concern for future of once bustling centre:
BRIDGEND town centre was once a bustling hub with a thriving marketplace and an abundance of independent shops.
But with more people shopping online and an increasing number of supermarkets and shopping arcades, some fear town centres are becoming a thing of the past.
So is Bridgend town centre really in danger of becoming a ghost town?
Shopper Georgina Whittaker said she rarely visits the town centre and would shop online or head to Cardiff, Swansea or even Bristol instead.
The 34-year-old from Brackla said there isn’t enough shops for her to visit, and there’s nothing to attract the younger generations.
She said: “The shops have got worse over the years and they keep getting worse. It’s full of charity shops which I wouldn’t bother coming into town for.
“I’m only here today because my car is in the garage down the road. I would like to see some more high street shops like a Primark or River Island, and a department store. Just more and better shops really because there isn’t much here.”
Carole James, who lives just outside Bridgend, also said she doesn’t shop in the town centre very often.
“I think it’s horrible, there aren’t many shops and the teenagers would rather go to McArthurGlen,” she said.
“It’s empty. I think there needs to be more in Bridgend because it isn’t like it used to be. I know more people are shopping online, but I think people would actually come to the town centre if there were shops here for people to come to.
“I would prefer it if there were more shops in Bridgend because most of them are empty and there’s just a lot of charity shops. It doesn’t give off a good impression.”
Bridgend council (BCBC) says it would be “delighted” if stores such as Primark were to come to Bridgend but it has no say about which retailers open in the town centre.
Councillor Charles Smith, cabinet member for education and regeneration said: “We work with property owners to develop and enhance buildings to make the overall shopping environment more attractive to brand-name investors and shoppers alike.
“An example of this can be seen in the way we provided grant funding which transformed a derelict building in Adare Street and brought it back into use as the highly successful Corvo Lounge.
“We actively encourage all types of business to invest in the area, and also use initiatives such as the Vibrant and Viable Places programme to develop a community of people living at the heart of the town centre where they can support local trade.”
Market traders Peter and Tim Wood run Peter Wood and Sons butchers in the indoor market in the Rhiw Shopping Centre.
Peter set up the business in the 1970s and and now it’s run by son Tim, who said fewer people have been coming to the market over the years, and that it’s hard for town centres to compete with the likes of McArthurGlen – which offers free parking and is open later.
Peter thinks the rise of big supermarkets has led to a decline in people shopping locally.
He said: “People used to come to the market to buy their meat, their bread and their fish. Now they can get it all in one place and the big supermarkets are able to reduce their prices. I think that has had a big impact but I don’t think we can go back to how it was before.”
Another reason given by traders is pedestrianisation, which was completed in Bridgend in 2004.
Freya Sykes-Bletsoe, owner of Ella Riley’s Traditional Sweets in Nolton Street, is one of the independent
traders backing plans to reverse parts of the pedestrianisation.
She said: “The town centre is just awful.”
She added: “We voted for the town to be de-pedestrianised when BCBC had their consultation, but that hasn’t happened yet and the council says they don’t have the money for it.
“We need footfall, the town needs the footfall. Things aren’t going to get any better unless people can easily get into and around the town centre, and for that we need traffic.”
Like Ms Sykes-Bletsoe, many town centre businesses have long campaigned for cars to be allowed back into the bottom part of town to boost trade. In 2016 a scheme to reverse pedestrianisation was backed by the public in a bid to boost town centre shopping, with almost eight out of 10 people supporting the plan for Queen Street, Dunraven Place and Market Street to be open to traffic.
Some traders say high business rates are also forcing independent shops to close. One shop owner said that after he has paid for his stock, rent and business rates, he probably pays himself about £3 an hour.
Dean Coleman, the owner of Circuit on Nolton Street, said business rates have “crippled him” and could force him to close down his electrical store, a business he has run for the past five years.
The 35-year-old said: “I’m on my knees here and I’m not going to lie, I don’t know how long I have left here. I can’t afford the business rates. It’s crippling independent business owners like myself. After you’ve paid your rent and your rates and your suppliers, what
do you have left?”
Mr Coleman said he has fallen behind on paying his business rates because he claims they are too expensive. He has now accepted the fact he may have limited time left on Nolton Street.
“Nobody can afford to run a business here and it’s sad because this is my home,” he added.
“When I was growing up it was bustling. There were shops for everyone and everything. You had three or four butchers, a fishmonger, bakeries, Woollies and the markets. I remember walking through the town when I was little and it was scary because there were just so many people.
“It’s where everyone went. Now it’s a hellhole. There is nothing here.”
But while traders like Mr Coleman say high businesses rates are leading to shop closures, it’s up to Welsh Government to set business rates.
Last year it introduced the Small Business Rates Relief scheme, which many businesses in Bridgend benefit from.
In December, the now First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said the Welsh Government “will make an extra £23.6m of support available in 2019-20 through the high street rates relief scheme to support Welsh businesses”.
Bridgend BID manager Justin Jenkins said it is committed to improving the town centre and encouraging more people to visit.
Mr Jenkins said the BID hosts various events throughout the year – such as the Christmas markets – and works alongside the local authority to deliver what residents and traders want.
It has also launched a Bridgend gift card to try to encourage more people to shop locally.
Adare Street, Bridgend
Dunraven Place. Bridgend
Bridgend town centre